Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Interview with Elizabeth Scott Barron – the Heroine of “When God Answers”

VM: I’m surprised that you came over on horseback in all this snow. This much snow is not typical.

E: I was born in 1850. I never learned to drive a car. I don’t even have a driver’s license.

VM: I’m sorry that you had to come here right after a snowstorm. I could have gone to you.

E: You think this is a hardship for me? This is nothing for someone born in 1850.

VM: Before we start the interview tell me, did you read my, “20 Interview Questions to Ask Your WIP Characters” post the other day?

E: Yes. I thought it was interesting. I made a print copy and sent it to Janette Marie just in case she wants to interview me in the future.

VM: Good, because I don’t intend to ask you those questions. I think only your author should ask them.

E: You probably could still ask them…in a way. She’s your character and I am her character. That kind of makes you my grand-author and me your grand-character.

VM: I agree but I think it might be too alienating to the reader for us to engage in a second order level of alienation.

E: Maybe you should explain what you mean by 'alienation'. You’re using the word in a technical sense and not the everyday sense.

VM: OK, in a literary sense, ‘alienation’ happens when you remind a reader that she is reading a novel. It also happens when someone in a stage play asks the audience how they like the play so far in the middle of the play. In a play, this is very unsettling.

E: I agree, alienation destroys the whole ‘suspension of disbelief’ thing. Why do it at all?

VM: In a play it was once considered very modern – but now it’s old hat. In a novel it is usually unintentional.

E: How do you mean?

VM: It happens when a character in a romance is reading a romance. That reminds the reader that she is also reading a romance and this awareness can destroy the illusion that the story action is really happening.

E: Well, here it can’t be helped. There is no way to interview a character in a romance without some alienation happening.

VM: But if you alienate the reader in the right way, the illusion with the reader can be recreated because the alienation becomes part of the total ‘reading experience’. It really works when done well.

E: It works in “Characters in a Romance” because the theme itself is based on alienation. That’s like writing a romance about a romance author.

VM: Yes and for that very reason you won’t find many romances where the heroine is a romance author. But let’s talk about you. I understand that you had a rather unusual birth.

E: My birth was normal for the times. I survived my first year which about twenty-five percent of babies didn’t back then. What was unusual was being born on a ship in the middle of the Pacific Ocean a thousand miles from the closest country. I am truly a citizen of the world. Sometimes I like to say, “I’m a citizen of the sea.”

VM: But I read where you claim to be an Australian.

E: I had to be from somewhere and since my parents had an Australian accent, which they gave to me, I just told everyone I was an Australian. Of course we were not an independent country back then.

VM: Let’s go into the den and get warm by the fire. I only have gas logs but they do get warm. Have you seen gas logs before?

E: Yes, and I don’t like them. The fire is warm but it is a transparent warm. There’s no color in the flames or crackle in the wood. I just don’t think that people living today have any idea what it is to lead an authentic life.

VM: We may not but don’t you think it is rather odd to hear those comments coming from a fictional character?

E: To you I’m fictional but to me I’m as real as you are. And before you get to feeling superior to me or any other fictional character, you too could be someone else’s fictional character. There is no test you can perform to verify your actual existence.

VM: There is no test? Are you sure of this?

E: Of course, any test I could conduct could just as well be part of the plot of the story I’m in. Even in fiction, you can never get to absolute truth and remember this: God has the ability to edit reality at any time.

VM: Look Elizabeth, before I get to feeling any more insecure, let me start the interview.

E: Ask your first question.

VM: Janette Marie called “When God Answers” an example of “edgy” Christian fiction. As a lead character, do you agree with her assessment?

E: I don’t see it that way. I think ‘edgy’ really means right up to the edge of what your particular publisher will allow. So one book for one publisher may be considered very ‘edgy’ while for another publisher it would be quite ordinary.

VM: That’s true but ‘edgy’ can also have reference to the author’s installed base. That is, what her current loyal readers will see as edgy.

E: That could be the case but it assumes readers, even loyal readers, are monolithic in their reasons for liking an author. It could be that many fans like an author in spite of the ‘edginess’ and not because of it. Without a very detailed study, it’s not possible to know the answer to this question.

VM: The author thinks the ‘edginess’ comes from the fact that you and the hero both talk to God and He answers back. I mean God answers you with a human voice that you hear with your human ears. The thought is, God has not talked to humans in that way since biblical times.

E: I don’t know if this is so much ‘edgy’ as it is atypical for the genre. But think about it: if God can do anything and if you believe in God, then why would it seem ‘edgy’ for God to talk to one of His children?

VM: I think it is mostly jealousy. People don’t like the idea that God speaks to others but not to them.

E: I’m sure jealousy plays a part but I think the real problem is controversy. Why are you reading fiction? For enjoyment. And why are you reading Christian fiction? I think because you want to read ‘clean’ writing and a story with a positive message. I think having God actually talk to your characters can upset the reader. This is especially true if the author does not do it right.

VM: Do you think Jantee Marie did it right?

E: Yes she did and that is why the book got published. Also, let’s be honest here, there have been a few best selling books like “Conversations with God’ and these have prepared the way. I think the reading public will allow ‘God-talk’ as long as you avoid heresy.

VM: The novel format is ideal for this because every reader can ‘hear’ God’s voice in their own mind. If you had to do it on TV, the voice of the actor might come across as camp or not sounding the way a viewer thinks God would sound.

E: Not only that but the reader of “When God Answers” never knows for sure if it really is God they are hearing. The reader could be hearing her own conscience. I expect many readers will conclude that the book characters were not hearing God. Nevertheless, they could still enjoy the conversations.

VM: Now about your part in “When God Answers”, tell us a little about yourself.

E: First I was born in the middle of the Pacific ocean over a thousand miles from any country. My mother and father had just left Australia to try their luck in the California gold fields. We landed in San Francisco.

VM: And you considered yourself an Australian?

E: Actually, I consider myself a Pacifican and citizen of no country but because of my accent, I was inclined to say I was from Australia.

VM: Your father was a gold miner and a gambler.

E: And a preacher. He was an ordained minister in Australia and a noted mathematician. He made about thirty dollars a day panning for gold. This was good money back then because thirty dollars was a month’s pay for a many workers. He also make over a hundred dollars a day gambling at night. He was great at card games where he could figure the odds mathematically. As long as the games were fair, he’d always come out a winner in the long term. He use to say, “If you always play the percentages and don’t get emotionally involved, you will always win in the long term.”

VM: So he was a scientific gambler?

E: Yes, but the way he did it, he said it wasn’t gambling.

VM: What were his math papers about?

E: Probability. Dad was very intelligent and he make a lot of money at almost everything he did.

VM: What happened next?

E: When he made enough money in the gold fields he went to Alaska and set up a trading company. The trade was with Russia. The town is still named for him. He sold the operation, however, thinking Alaska was no place to live. We moved to Santa Fe and established a church. That’s were I mostly grew up and went to school. He was not very successful with the church because most everyone was Catholic. And to be truthful the priests did a better job of converting him than he did of converting them. The priests in Santa Fe were of very high quality.

Next we moved to Texas, this was long after the Mexican American war, and he bought a very large cattle ranch. It became the largest ranch in that part of Texas. There’s a town named after him there, too.

This is where “When God Answers” opens. I’m 26 years old, the country is celebrating its centennial year, and I’m going on one of the last cattle drives. Everything seemed to be dying back then: the Santa Fe trail was over, the cattle drives almost non-existent, the range wars were settling things for good and the open range along with the wild west were all more of a memory than a reality.

VM: You seem to be very well educated for someone born in 1850.

E: What are you talking about? We were much better educated back then than kids are today. I was taught Latin in grade school. I was taught geography and history. I knew far more than a student knows today about the world. Back then, most people’s education ended with the sixth grade. The school tried very hard to give everyone the best education they could in that short time.

VM: I’m talking about T.S. Elliot. Janette Marie has told me you like to quote from “The Wasteland”.

E: I do. Let me tell you a trade secret. Novels only really exist when they are being ‘played’ in a reader’s mind. Books are like sheet music, in that they are not music. Music has to be first played and then heard in a listener’s mind.

Books exist only as ‘paper and ink’ but the novel, the story itself, that only exists when the words are being read and played in a reader’s mind. Now here’s the secret: when the novel is being read and played in the reader’s mind, I have access to everything else that is in the reader’s mind. When I discover a really intelligent reader, I scan his or her mind. I try to learn all that I can while the reader is enjoying the book. The more absorbed the reader is in the story, the easier it is for me to pick the reader's brain.

VM: Don’t’ you think that is an invasion of privacy?

E: Yes, but I’m just a fictional character so you can’t sue me. Besides, there’s not much I can do with the information to hurt anyone.

VM: What were your goals in “When God Answers”?

E: I wanted to get the cattle herd safely out of Texas and drive it to our operation in New Mexico. I was going to establish myself in New Mexico for the future. Little did I know that I would get involved in the Lincoln County wars or that Billy the Kid would be taking shots at me and my men.

VM: Billy the Kid?

E: Yes, his full name was William Henry McCarty, and he thought we were the killers of some man called Tunstall. The Kid had us mixed up with the real killers and we went our way.

VM: But not before some gunplay?

E: We didn’t consider it gunplay back then. I could have been killed.

VM: What about love?

E: Other than my mother and father, I didn’t have any role models for what romantic love should be like. In Santa Fe I had nuns and priests teaching me. The cattle hands were mostly unmarried or at least didn’t have any wives around. I read Jane Austin’s books but her world had no relation to mine.

VM: Did you ever want children?

E: I was an only child. Well my mother had four more births after me but none lived more than year. So childbirth was not an attraction for me. In fact, it was a good reason to avoid men altogether. I saw two brothers and two sisters die before they were one year old. They were beautiful innocent babies who had harmed no one. To me this was the best proof that God did not exist or at best didn’t care about mankind.

VM: But you changed your view by the end of the story.

E: Of course. I met the hero who once had three older sisters – all who died in childbirth. He saw having a child as a death sentence for a woman. He had no desire to have children. He always said he wanted to adopt children who were at least five years old. Back then half the children did not live past the first five years. Having children almost guaranteed much sadness in your life.

VM: With those views I don’t see how you and the hero could ever get together.

E: You would think that but I’m reminded of what the ancient Greeks used to advise. “First be a good animal”. The Greeks thought highly of philosophers and poets, but they insisted that you first had to educate the body.

VM: And?

E: Being healthy and being of the opposite sex and sharing a life on the cattle trails, well, let me put it this way: it all had its effect on us. I mean me and the hero.

VM: And then God came in and starting talking to you.

E: To both of us. But we talked to God first. I used to say, “Lord tell me why this or that…” Then one day He just answered, “This is why this or that…”

VM: And that encouraged Hank to also talk to God?

E: Yes but Hank could hear God talking to me and he wanted to know what was going on.

VM: The odd thing is that you two never seemed to take God’s advice.

E: We did sometimes and sometimes it turned out bad for us. Then sometimes when we didn’t do what God said, it would often turn out good for us. So the reader never knows what is going to happen next.

VM: Tell us about the hero’s background.

E: We were the same age. In fact we had the same birthday. June 14, 1850.

VM: Did you figured that having the same birthday was a sign from God that you were meant for each other?

EL: Not in the book we didn’t. After all, most people born on the same day don’t marry each other. But, yes, in the back story, the story the reader never gets to read, common birthdays did have an impact on our feelings for each other.

VM: I was wondering why more wasn’t made of the fact that you were both born on the same day in the same year. Usually the hero is older than the heroine.

E: That was Janette Marie’s decision. I know what she will tell you. She doesn’t believe you should use coincidence in fiction.

VM: Hank was not born on the ocean was he?

E: No, Hank was born in the Indian Territory. He was one of a twin. His twin, a sister, died a week later. He told me that all his life his twin sister, Abigail, was there for him. He said when he looked into a mirror he could see her by simply squinting his eyes. And he would see her as she would have looked at Hank’s current age.

VM: Hank had been a gunfighter and a paid killer. How did you adjust to that?

E: Hank was a cowboy during a few range wars. Since he was good with a gun, he was paid $10 a month more than a regular cowhand. Of course, he was expected to fight for the brand. And he did.

VM: Yes, but isn’t it true that Hank would even fight when he was in town and the cattle were safely miles away on the open range.

E: The location of the cattle was not the issue. It was the location of the threat that counted. It wasn’t like Hank was hired to kill a specific person like some modern day hit man.

VM: Still wasn’t Hank a church going Christian.

E: He was a better Christian than me. He could quote the Bible with the best of them. This is saying a lot given my father was a well known preacher.

VM: God had a few things to say about Hank’s gunfighting.

E: Don’t give too much of the story away.

VM: What were Hank’s goals?

E: Hank must speak for himself but I would guess one goal would be to find some kind of peace. He was a very angry man. All the time he was growing up bad things happened to the good people around him. He just couldn’t sit back and let that happen. At some point he would always fight. He would fight injustice wherever he found it and if he couldn’t find an injustice, he’d still find some reason to fight.

VM: Was Hank always a Christian?

E: He was a mixed-up Christian. He’d even fight non-believers for not believing. He really didn’t 'get it' until he was older and had more nights alone under the stars to think things over.

VM: What was his outer goal and how did it relate to yours?

E: He wanted both inner-peace and outer peace. He wanted to be a good father but he didn’t want to bring children into the world. We were actually in a position to be the solution to each other's problems. We both just had to change enough.

VM: Do you have a favorite moment in the book?

E; Oh yes, the shootout at high noon.

VM: You mean with the corrupt orphanage manager?

E: Yes, the orphanage was a scam. It used the fact that there were legitimate orphan trains coming out west from New York city. The manager was a dishonest minister who brought kids to Texas to sell to ranchers and farmers. Many of the kids were being abused and Hank wanted to stop it.

VM: And what did God tell him to do?

E: God told him to shoot the man because he deserved to die and go to hell.

VM: But Hank didn’t shoot the man.

E: No, he didn’t believe the voice was really God’s but I did. I knew that God was using reverse psychology on Hank. God knew that Hank would try to prove he was smarter than Him by solving the problem without killing the bad guy.

VM: So he meets the bad guy at high noon in front of the saloon with the whole town waiting for a gunfight and Hank offers to buy the orphanage.

E: And the bad guy took the money and…

VM: No more, let’s not give too much away because what happens next is just too big a surprise. I can’t imagine any reader anticipating what happens next.

E: That’s why it's my favorite moment.

VM: What’s your favorite moment that you took a part in?

E: There were many of them. I had a really good part in this novel. It’s really my story and I shouldn’t give too much away.

VM: Do you think there will be a sequel?

E: I hope not and I can’t see it happening. All the loose ends are tied-up at the end and all the objectives have been obtained. A sequel would have to have some part of this perfect picture unravel just so it could be fixed again and it’s simply not that kind of story.

VM” How have the reviews been? Do you even get to see the reviews?

E: I never read reviews unless the reviews are part of the plot. I don’t think there have been any reviews yet. Just the ARCs are out. The book has not been released.

VM: I read a real copy of the book not an ACR.

E: Then you had an early author’s copy. What did you think of “When God Answers”?

VM: You don’t want to know.

E: That bad?

VM: Not bad but there are a lot of things I would have done differently. I would have made the book more “reader friendly” and easier to market.

E: It’s just her first book, Janette Marie will get a lot better. I think she’s finally learned to listen to her characters.

VM: I’m sure she’ll read this post. Do you have anything to tell her?

E: Of course, thanks for the HEA.

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